Your turn to be the fly on the wall
By MARTY CLEAR
Published January 28, 2006
TAMPA - There's really no reason to expect Phyro-Giants! to be as much fun as it is.
Michael Blieden's play consists entirely of a meandering conversation over dinner in a restaurant. There's very little movement, no set other than a table and chairs and a couple of paintings. Really, almost nothing "happens," other than casual chitchat gradually becoming weightier.
Comparisons to the film My Dinner With Andre are almost inescapable. But the conversation in Phyro-Giants! is much less provocative, and the play can't rely on changing camera angles and background action to provide visual interest. Yet Phyro-Giants! comes across as lively, crisp and entertaining, pretty much from start to finish.
Much of the credit for the success of the current Jobsite Theater production belongs to an engaging cast. Ryan McCarthy, Katrina Stevenson, Shawn Paonessa and Summer Bohnenkamp-Jenkins, as the four diners, all give bright performances, and seem to be enjoying themselves as much as their characters are. Kari Keller, who also directs, pops in every now and then as a frenetic and self-absorbed waitress, adding just the right touch of kinetic energy to the proceedings.
But credit also goes to Blieden, a television actor who had never written a stage play before this one. His dialogue is free-form and flowing, always amusing and so artful it seems to be without artifice. People interrupt and talk over each other; topics change or go off on tangents before they come to fruition.
The four dinner companions - a group of friends and friends-of-friends, some of whom have never met before - start off making nothing but small talk. The conversation gradually grows a bit weightier. They go from talking about belief in ghosts to belief in God.
But Blieden, who has said he wrote the play for people who hate plays (whatever that means), never lets matters get too heavy. Fairly jolting plot twists reveal that there was a little more substance behind the small talk than we thought, but the play never turns into an Albee-esque long night of tortured souls. If there is a fault with the script, it is that it dwells too long on mildly entertaining small talk before it gets to the heart of relationships.
But the play is only 70 minutes long - done in real time, with no intermission - so there is no time to get antsy. We can pretend we're invading, anonymously and safely, the privacy of some perfectly nice strangers, which is a pretty fun thing to do for an hour.
Phyro-Giants! through Feb. 5 at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center's Shimberg Playhouse. 10:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. $18.50 plus service charge. Call 813 229-7827 or go to www.tbpac.org
[Last modified January 28, 2006, 01:37:10]
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